CLEVELAND — All you need to know about the game between the Bills and Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium is the spread.
Cleveland (2-6) is a 2½-to-3-point favorite over Buffalo (6-2) in Sunday’s meeting (1 o’clock, CBS-TV, 95.7 FM, 1000.1 FM, 550 AM).
That a team four games behind its opponent in the standings is giving points is a reopened wound for the Bills.
Off to its best start since 1993, Buffalo’s record carries the asterisk that its six wins have come against teams with a combined record of 9-42, none of them with a winning mark.
Indeed, after last Sunday’s 24-9 victory over Washington (1-8) at New Era Field, veteran safety Micah Hyde allowed, “I’m done apologizing for ugly wins. It’s a win. We’re 6-2 … this time last year we were 2-6.”
And though coach Sean McDermott didn’t address the perceived disrespect directly, he admitted, “When Micah speaks, he’s got a lot of respect in the locker room and he’s one of our leaders.
“It’s about controlling what we can control. We get asked about it a lot … from early on until halfway now at this point in the season. We don’t make the schedule. We didn’t make the schedule last year, probably good odds we won’t make it next year either. We’re focused on who we play this week.”
To which Bills quarterback Josh Allen added, “It’s not our job to question (the schedule and quality of opposition). That’s what you (media) guys are for. We’re focused on coming here every day trying to be the best version of ourselves, trying to play to our standard, what Coach McDermott has set forth for us ...the foundation that he’s laid for us, being playoff caliber and trying to try to live up to that each and every day, on and off the field, so the results that we’re seeing right now is obviously we’re winning games.”
But he also conceded, “We know what we are, as far as record goes. We know we haven’t played as well as we can, but to his point it’s a complete 180 from last year, night and day. Expectations that we have for our self are so much higher than anybody else ... any of the media.
“Our expectations, our standards are put forth so high that being 6-2, yeah it’s great, but I don’t think any 6-2 team has been in the playoffs just by being 6-2. We’ve got to continue to work hard and continue to find ways to win football games.”
THEN, OF COURSE, there are the Browns, whose 2-6 mark might be a bit of a mirage in the other direction. Of Cleveland’s six losses, four have been to San Francisco (8-0), New England (8-1), Seattle (7-2) and the Rams (5-3). And one of its two wins has been a 40-25 domination of the Ravens, one of the AFC’s elite teams, in Baltimore no less.
“That’s a good, talented football team … a team that’s come close,” McDermott said of Cleveland. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us on the road.
“What makes that team so good is they have so many weapons. You commit to stopping the run, they beat you in the passing game. You commit to stopping the pass then they’ve got Nick Chubb (100-yard per game average) and now Kareem (Hunt, former Chief just finished with an 8-game suspension) back. So it’s been well-documented the ability of their players.”
And they figure to put Buffalo’s defense to the test.
“(Chubb and Hunt) are really good backs,” coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “Chubb is one of the elite backs in our league and we’ll have our hands full to be able to corral their run game and they’ve got some threats outside as well ... some explosive guys that can really make some plays (wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry) and a good young quarterback (Baker Mayfield).
“So, to be able to find that balance, being able to defend their run game and not give up explosive plays, it’ll be a challenge for our defense as those are two really good backs.”
To which Allen admitted, “They’re a team that’s got a lot talent (on defense), guys that play really hard. I don’t really think their record dictates who they are as a team. They’re a really good team. We’ve got to go out there and execute. When they get things put together in the right way, I’m sure the record’s gonna start turning around. ”
And Bills fans are hoping that doesn’t start on Sunday.